Two brains prove better than one for inaugural round of McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program

The first round of the McGill-Western Collaboration Grant awards were announced today, showcasing the unique research partnership between Western University’s BrainsCAN and McGill University’s Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives (HBHL) initiative. In the inaugural round, seven research teams, each co-led by a Western and McGill faculty member, have been awarded funding for their transformational research projects that aim to radically transform our understanding of the brain.

“The McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program gives Western and McGill neuroscientists the opportunity and incentive to work collaboratively on projects, utilizing the world-class infrastructure and expertise at both institutions,” says Ravi Menon, BrainsCAN Co-Scientific Director. “The understanding of brain disorders is still very much a challenge, so bringing together the vast knowledge of Western and McGill researchers is a fantastic opportunity to help solve the mysteries of neurodegenerative conditions together.”

“This is an exciting time for neuroscience in Canada as we build a network of inter-linked brain research programs across Canada,” says Alan Evans, HBHL Scientific Director. “With game-changing support from CFREF, the HBHL-BrainsCAN axis is central to that national thrust and places Canada in the vanguard of large-scale brain research.”

BrainsCAN and HBHL’s McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program supports impactful brain research. The first award recipient round is funding projects on topics including epilepsy, auditory cognition, Alzheimer’s Disease, memory, and consciousness and cognition.

Adrian Owen, a renowned researcher in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at Western, will begin his collaborative project with Stefanie Blain-Moraes, Assistant Professor of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill next year. In this new collaboration, Owen and Blain-Moraes will develop a point-of-care system for unresponsive, brain injured patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

“Our project is really well suited for the McGill-Western Collaboration Grant as it’s high-risk, it’s novel, it involves expertise from McGill and Western, and collaboration is essential for it to happen at all,” says Owen. “Having a framework that reduces barriers for collaborative research is really important. BrainsCAN and HBHL’s McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program facilitates this framework.”

The goal of Owen and Blain-Moraes’ project is to accurately predict prognosis and long-term outcomes for unresponsive ICU patients. If successful, the results could have a transformative effect on patients suffering from severe brain injuries within Canada and abroad.

“We’d really like to develop prognostic tools that give people more information about what the quality of life [of the patient] is likely to be with survival,” says Owen. “Not only indicators about who is going to survive, but also what they might experience as a survivor.”

Seven BrainsCAN and HBHL McGill-Western Collaboration Grant projects will begin over the next six months utilizing the research expertise at both institutions. The McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program was made possible due to a combined $150 million over 7 years to BrainsCAN and HBHL awarded by The Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). This fall’s award recipients are the first group of research teams to receive the BrainsCAN and HBHL McGill-Western Collaboration Grant awards.

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BrainsCAN is Western University’s research initiative in cognitive and behavioural neuroscience that aims to transform the way brain diseases and disorders are understood, diagnosed and treated. Through its innovative funding programs, BrainsCAN brings together scientists from all disciplines, working across species and levels of analysis, to find effective solutions for maintaining a healthy brain.

Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives (HBHL) is a multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral initiative at McGill University, made possible with support from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), Quebec’s Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation (MEI), and the Fonds de recherche du Quebec (FRQ). HBHL builds on McGill’s scientific excellence and global leadership in areas of neuroscience that hold the greatest promise for delivering implementable, clinically effective outcomes in brain and mental health. It aims to transform many brain disorders from terminal or life-long afflictions to treatable, even curable, conditions.

Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.